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Life In The Victorian WorkHouse


Life In The Victorian WorkHouse
The setting for Oliver Twist was a grim reality for society’s poor.
For the elderly, unemployed and orphaned, life on the cold and filthy streets of Victorian Britain was tough, but better, said many, than the horror of the workhouse. These homes, funded by local taxpayers, were essentially prisons for the poor, where inmates had to follow a strict routine and work their fingers to the bone to earn their keep. Those who didn’t would face flogging, imprisonment, or be left on the street for dead. Conditions were kept deliberately meagre to ensure that only the most desperate applied, but one of the most off putting aspects was the fact that families were separated. Wives, husbands and children were only allowed to see each other for a short ‘interview’ each day, and in worst cases, only on Sundays.

‘Poor relief’ has existed in England and Wales since the passing of the Poor Law in 1601, which gave parishes responsibility for looking after the most vulnerable among society. Work houses did exist at this time, but as the cost of building them was so high, ‘outdoor relief’ became the main form of support. This usually consisted of cash payouts, along with food and clothing.
However, the huge influx of injured and unemployed men returning from the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century saw the national poor relief bill quadruple. In 1834 the Poor Law Amendment Act was passed, which aimed to end payouts to those able to work. Instead, relief would only be provided in the workhouses, except in special cases. For many penniless Victorians, it was the workhouse or nothing.

Life In The Victorian WorkHouse, Napoleonic Wars